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Cartoons - a new era

Every morning, we are regaled by a soul-tickling feast of cartoons.

The day's yield of the 'barbed-art,' arrives home via the small screen, as a sustaining electronic breakfast.

In a stunning display of media magic, 'Mul Pituwa' has continued to present a plateful of fun, in what could be described as a breath taking marathon in Sri Lanka's journalism.

This programme and its versatile presenter, have won wide accolade and steady admiration.

'Mul Pituwa', media prestidigitator, has, in effect, ushered in a New Era of print-media cartoons.

Offering a multi-coloured bouquet of selected cartoons everyday, 'Mul Pituwa' has ensured a stable national patronage to this Art Form.

It has transformed the cartoon, into an absorbing subject for mass conversation.

The impact of the humble cartoon has begun to raise ripples in social behaviour.

At a birthday celebration I too part in, recently, the ladies conversed cartoons seen on 'Mul Pituwa', into subject-matter for party talk.

Yes, quite clearly a New Era has dawned for Sri Lankan cartoons.

Everywhere, for that matter, the cartoon, especially the political variety, enjoys mass popularity.

In a democracy, statesmen, politicians, officials and even the ordinary citizens, have invariably to perform in the open arena of the public domain.

Exercising the freedom and the right they possess, the people report the activities of the men and women, who are socially and politically prominent.

But, a good part of that comment is in written text.

In such a context, the professional practice of the cartoonist is a different proposition altogether. The cartoonist utilizes the art of sketching, drawing and painting.

There is yet another significant difference. As a rule the political cartoonist, aims his barbs at his 'victims', when they are still around. In essence, therefore, the political cartoon is primarily for the living, by the living and very much of the living.

The generally held view is, that, the art genre 'cartoon', is of fairly recent origin. It is not at all so.

The origin of the cartoon especially the political cartoon, dates back to the hoary past. In the first authentically recorded political cartoon, the 'victim', was a member of the mightiest ruling class, the world has ever-known. He was Pharaoh Akhenaton, the unpopular father-in-law of the supremely famous Egyptian King Tutankhamen - whose name has been reduced to irreverent 'King Tut', by wags of our time. The cartoon dates back to about 1300 BC.

Commenting on the world's first-ever political cartoon, Bob Callaghan observes: "It is useful to recall, that the cartoon's oldest use is as political satire....Someone along the Nile decided to depict the new candidate for Pharaoh, as a dog with a man's head."

The fortunes or the misfortunes of this original cartoonist, are not on record. But, significant responses to cartoons in much later ages are available.

Many centuries after the Pharaoh cartoon, the genre of satirical assault, elicited the displeasure of powerful men, who vehemently resented being made victims of the 'barbed art.'

In an outburst provoked by a cartoon in the issue of the US publication 'Harpers Weekly' for the 19th of August 1871, political boss William Marcy Tweed spluttered: "Stop them damn pictures. I don't care so much what the papers write about me. My constituents cannot read. But, damn it, they can see pictures."

Totally contrary to that spirit the US Today is the Golden Land of Cartoonists. So much so, that the practitioners of the barbed art, tend to assess the 'cartoonability' of new leaders.

With the pervasive spread of liberal thought and the gradual seeping down of democratic values deep into the core of the modern psyche, the political cartoon began to assume a new and more acceptable guise.

At first, the word 'cartoon' meant no more than the preliminary sketch for a fresco or painting. But, the well-known British humour magazine 'Punch' adapted the word to mean a satirical drawing-thus making an unexpected contribution to the English Language.

This was in July 1843. It is important to remember, that cultures of the Oriental Region possessed a tradition of humour - both folk and courtly.

Vidushaka - the Court-Jester - occupied a high niche in state hierarchy and was perhaps the only person who could take liberties with an august monarch.

The Vidushaka was generally a learned Brahmin, who enjoyed the privilege of laughing of the ruler, reminding the monarch constantly of his earthly, human stature, in spite of the divinity that tradition endowed upon him.

The political cartoonists of our day are the 'Vidushakas' of the contemporary world.

In Sri Lanka, we have had a fairly long tradition of political cartooning. Colette of Lake House, did not spare even such stalwarts as the first Prime Minister D.S. Senanayake, Wijesoma, championed in his cartoons, mostly the common man, symbolised by the character he created Punchi Singho, Camilius Perera brought into being a whole gallery of cartoon characters. But, we have to grant objectively that, it is 'Mul Pituwa' that elevated a whole generation of cartoonists to high profile.

This art form flourishes, in direct proportion to the liberal attitude of the leaders.

Such leaders as the late Prime Minister Sir John Kotelawala, the Late President J.R. Jayewardene and the late President R. Premadasa relished the cartoons in which they were caricatured.

The famous J.R. Proboscis was a favourite feature of the cartoonists, who elevated it to legendary heights.

Most of those leaders had a cordial rapport with their cartoonist 'formentors'. Sir John would have them at his fabulous breakfast table. J.R. invited them to tea.

The cordiality exhibited by these leaders, is a far cry from the shrieking impatience of political boss William Marcy Tweed, who screamed 'Stop them damn pictures.'

But as I see it, the cartoonists have come emphatically to their own, in the era of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The personality of President Mahinda Rajapaksa is a godsend to the cartoonist. His dress, dramatically accentuated by the brown shawl-generally knotted his impressive facial nuances and his ever-present smile are all eminent treasures to the political cartoonists.

In the best traditions of our late leadership, President Mahinda Rajapaksa has always had a built-in rapport with all segments of media.

The new era in the field of Sri Lankan cartoons, depends to a great extent on this personality of the leader. The President's in-born cordiality towards the people, and his unaffected, outgoing nature, have created a background in which the political cartoonist could go to work with uninhibited glee, fully aware that the cartoonist will not evoke even a minute trace of malice in the First Citizen of the Land, towards whom they aim their satirical barbs.

In consequence cartooning has astonishingly proliferated under President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

His comprehensive vanquishing of the evil forces of terrorism, has given the cartoonist a theme, that did not exist before.

All these cumulatively spell, a New Era of Cartoons in Sri Lanka.

Then there is 'Mul Pituwa'. This programme presented with a charming and at times, a mischievous stance, evokes such a wide-spread mass interest in the cartoon, that the people experience it as a New Era. In the light of all this, I have a suggestion for 'Montage.'

'Montage' could take the lead to organise an 'Annual Cartoon Festival' of Sri Lanka.

Prestigious awards could be presented to a whole range of creative personalities in the field of Sri Lankan cartoons.

How about it 'Montage?'

 

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